Santa Clara County Voter's Guide On Children's Issues

Palo Alto Unified School District

Jennifer DiBrienza

We are a school district and our first and primary purpose is to serve children. All children need and deserve our support both academically and emotionally, although some need more support than others.

  1. Taking into consideration the profound impact of COVID-19 and the expanded movement for racial justice and equity, what do you think are the top three issues affecting our children and families and how do you propose to address them?

    The most immediate need is the basic needs that many of our children and families are experiencing - food insecurity, housing insecurity, lack of access to school because of wifi or devices or supervision. There are various ways we can support these needs, most notably through partnerships with c3 orgs, individuals, and community activists.
    The next most immediate impact during covid is mental/emotional health. Children are isolated, lonely, disconnected, and many are experiencing depression. They aren't getting the interaction they want and need. We need to find safe ways to get them back onto campus as soon as possible and we need to find ways to support them emotionally, even from a distance.
    The third obvious need is the academic supports which many struggle to access during distance learning. As a district we have decided to reopen because there are many students who are site-dependent for their learning. We need to get them back on campus, in front of teachers, getting the help they need.

  2. How will the priorities you addressed in the first question be reflected in the way that you approach the budget process?

    We are a community funded district so hope to not see a drastic shift in our budget this year and next. For the bumps in the road, we have a healthy reserve for exactly such situations. But if cuts are necessary, we will remain focused on the most vulnerable of our students and the ways that they find most supported.

  3. What steps will you take to address the high cost and lack of availability of quality child care and preschool programs in our communities, especially for low-income children and English language learners?

    As a school board member there aren't a lot of options for us, except to advocate for the strengthening of such programs and to partner with local programs providing these services.

  4. What steps will you take to improve inclusion and outcomes for children with special needs or with disabilities?

    Over the past few years we have committed to better serving our children with special needs. Our program is as integrated as possible so that students have a chance to socially interact with peers. There is a clear gap between the achievement of our general education students and those with special learning needs. We are committed to looking at the systemic reasons why that might be and doubling down on the efforts to help these students meet A-G requirements and find academic success.

  5. Much of the student achievement gap has been linked to the "opportunity gap" that low-income children and children of color experience, including lack of access to healthy food, preschool, tutors and enrichment activities. If elected, what steps will you take to address this issue?

    As I currently serve as a board member, I have spent the first 4 years of my service on the board advocating for a review of our policies, practices, culture and climate. The outcomes we are getting exist because our system is set up to get them. If we want to see a change, we need to change the system, not the students. They are not a "problem". I am determined to build a board majority to make systemic change in our district so that student demographics are not a predictor of success.